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December 29, 2017

Why we need to build the capacity of newsrooms that reflect and represent the whole community

By Andrea Hart, City Bureau and Molly de Aguiar, News Integrity Initiative

Back in August, a journalist based in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote about the then-upcoming primary for the special election to fill an empty Senate seat: “If Roy Moore wins the primary, and the Democratic candidate turns out voters in higher-than-expected numbers, or if GOP voters rest on deep-red laurels and skip the polls altogether, then voilá: Alabama’s turned purple.

It was careful, local reporting from a local reporter writing for Scalawag, a relatively new arrival to the nonprofit journalism landscape, one that prides itself on its authentic attachment to the places it writes about, whether Columbus County, North Carolina, rural Alabama or the new Civil Rights Museum in Mississippi.

The morning after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore, Scalawag reported again from Birmingham on how it happened.

Across the U.S., communities increasingly rely on nonprofit newsrooms for their news and information. Traditional news sources are shrinking and many have disappeared entirely. In that vacuum, nonprofit news becomes a powerful watchdog — but also a vital convener, public advocate, fact-checker and community bulletin board. It matters greatly who works in these growing newsrooms and who is represented in their reporting. Trust in news cannot and will not be rebuilt unless newsrooms fully represent people from all backgrounds.

No matter where you live or which issue you care about there are nonprofit newsrooms who embody these values and need your support.

On the South Side of Chicago, a 2.5-year-old journalism lab called City Bureau is one of them. Working to reimagine accountable and inclusive local news, City Bureau has created a community-centered media space and even co-designed its membership program with the community to ensure the organization remains independent. By sharing the power of journalism with the community, City Bureau is creating better information systems and making accountability more accessible. For instance, their fellows have not only tackled issues of lead contaminated in water, policing in schools, and restorative justice in print but also brought this data back to the community through events. The Documenters program pays concerned citizens to cover public meetings; the 300 Documenters come from all over the city and range from 16 to 73 years old.

Attendees at City Bureau’s May 11 Public Newsroom workshop, “Who tells the story of Englewood” with Englewood-based photographer and City Bureau photojournalism fellowship alum, Tonika Johnson.

Attendees at City Bureau’s May 11 Public Newsroom workshop, “Who tells the story of Englewood” with Englewood-based photographer and City Bureau photojournalism fellowship alum, Tonika Johnson.

Newsrooms like City Bureau that put the public at the center of their work transform communities from the group up. Here are some more of the ways they are doing that:

  • 365 Media Foundation is working in Madison, Wisconsin, to use excellent journalism to start conversations, find real and lasting solutions, build community, invite action and encourage emerging leaders in Greater Madison’s communities of color, and to foster dialog between members of diverse communities.
  • In Oakland, Youth Radio trains next generation storytellers to provide a youth-led, alternative perspective to the prevailing media dialogue.
  • Centro de Periodismo Investigativo is the only investigative reporting outlet in Puerto Rico and, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, has documented the true death toll of the disaster in the face of much-lower official statistics.

And there are others: Injustice WatchGeorgia News Lab, the Indigenous Media Freedom AllianceMilwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Southern California’s Voice of OC. During News Match, the largest-ever national campaign to support nonprofit news, the News Integrity Initiative is supporting these 10 nonprofit newsrooms who put values into practice and work to cultivate diversity within news organizations as well as in the media ecosystem overall, paving new paths for diverse ownership and leadership in the field. Individual donations to the 10 newsrooms are eligible for an additional match — ensuring donor impact will go three times as far.

In addition, the more than 100 news organizations in News Match will participate in the American Society of News Editors’ annual diversity survey, an important industry-wide barometer of diversity in the news industry. Participation by nonprofit newsrooms will help organizations, donors and philanthropic supporters build toward a sector where equity is a core principle.

This year your donation matters more than ever. Without you, stories that represent the full diversity of the country, provide an alternative to what news has traditionally offered, and offer a path toward a new relationship between news and the public will go untold.

Originally published at Medium.